One of the most common misconceptions about retail today is that lean, online retailers are devouring the revenues of brick-and-mortar stores. While this may make for more compelling headlines, it doesn’t tell the full story.
In many parts of the world, the retail landscape is becoming increasingly divided. At one end of the spectrum, there are the retailers that prioritize large, diverse inventories and low prices—a business model best exemplified by Walmart and similar low-cost chains. At the other end, there are the high-end retailers that prioritize luxury goods and superior customer service. For those retailers, exclusivity is the primary motivation for their customers.
It’s those brands “in the middle”—the ones that can’t compete based on cost or luxury—that struggle to differentiate. And it’s these same brands that can benefit the most from experiential retail.
What is experiential retail?
Experiential retail seeks to delight shoppers with memorable shopping experiences that can be shared. In many ways, experiential retailers aim is to create communities around their brands.
As customers become more selective about the brands they shop with, the in-store experience needs to stand out from the pack. The catch? It can’t be gimmicky and forgo the transactional element entirely. At the end of the day, shoppers are still there to buy.
“The best kind of experiential retail are the experiences that are repeatable—not one-off gimmicks, where you take an Instagram selfie and call it a day. Meaningful experiences are where you want to go back time after time after time because the service is great, or you have a relationship with the person who works there. Repeatable value that’s different from your online experience.” — Arpan Podduturi, Director of Product, Shopify
Navigating experiential retail is tricky, so in this post, we take a look at four high-profile brands who do it best, and unpack what makes their experiences effective in terms of driving foot traffic, increasing sales, and building long-term loyalty.
4 examples of experiential retail (and takeaways)
While many experiential retailers adopt similar strategies to provide superior shopping experiences to their customers, there’s a great deal of variance from one retailer to another. The qualities the following retailers share, however, is a commitment to creating authentic, human, and immersive experiences that align with their brand values and product offerings.
Allbirds: Selling “the comfiest shoes on the planet”
Footwear is one of the most lucrative and competitive verticals in retail. In a multibillion-dollar industry dominated by entrenched incumbents, new entrants in the footwear market are uncommon—which makes footwear retailer Allbirds’ success all the more remarkable.
Many of Allbirds’ shoes are constructed from a superfine merino wool sustainably sourced in New Zealand. In the early days of the company, many consumers were intrigued by the unorthodox material. This created opportunities for Allbirds to create a narrative surrounding its products, highlight how and where the company sources its materials, and start conversations about the sustainability of the fashion and apparel market—all of which have become central to the company’s brand.
Allbirds didn’t just want to sell “the comfiest shoes on the planet.” It wanted to redefine the entire experience of buying a new pair of shoes.
“Consumers want to understand the product and the materials. They want to have transparency into the supply chain. They want to trust the brands they support to do something more.” —Tim Brown, cofounder, Allbirds
Allbirds began selling its shoes online in 2016 and opened its flagship retail store in San Francisco in May 2017. Opening retail stores wasn’t just a way for Allbirds to increase its physical footprint—it gave the company a way to interact with customers directly and provide the kind of shopping experience that few other footwear retailers can offer.
The company’s stores are as minimalistic as Allbirds’ footwear. Select pairs are wall-mounted throughout Allbirds’ stores, showcasing the company’s newest designs without overwhelming customers. The shop floors are similarly roomy and allow customers to browse at their leisure.
This also gives Allbirds’ sales associates the opportunity to answer customer questions and tell people about Allbirds’ products and brand values as they shop. Allbirds’ New York location even features a “service bar,” where customers can take their time in finding the right size.
The result is a relaxing and educational experience that goes beyond the clinical nature of most shoe stores. The company’s retail locations have proved so popular that Allbirds plans to open an additional 20 stores in 2020, many of which will be located across the U.S. – Read more